A classic case of a government-instigated press clampdown.
Yesterday, a Monday, seemed to be a “slow news day” until a shocking news caught the entire country by surprise.
No, it is not the unexpected and forced resignation of Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chair Patricia Licuanan. Licuanan, appointed by former president Noynoy “PNoy” Aquino and whose term of office will supposedly end on July of this year, cut short her chairmanship of CHED after receiving a call from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea last weekend asking her to quit apparently upon orders from President Rodrigo Dutere.
The news that shocked the nation yesterday is the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to shutdown online news agency Rappler.
In a decision ordering the revocation of Rappler’s license to operate, SEC ruled that the agency is “liable for violating the constitutional and statutory Foreign Equity Restrictions in Mass Media enforceable through rules and laws within the mandate of the Commission.” The said restriction requires 100 percent Filipino ownership of mass media.
However, despite the adverse decision, Rappler remained defiant and said that it will continue bringing the news, “holding the powerful to account for their actions and decisions, calling attention to government lapses that disempower the disadvantaged.”
“We will hold the line,” Rappler added.
For now, we will not attempt to discuss the complex legal technicalities of the issues involved because, for sure, Rappler will not take the SEC decision sitting down and will use all available remedies to question the ruling. It has fifteen days from receipt of the decision to elevate the case to the Court of Appeals (CA).
What is worthy to mention here is the real reason why the government of Duterte is hell-bent on silencing Rappler which has published articles highly critical of the administration.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are directly putting the blame on this latest attack on the constitutional right to free press and freedom of expression to the president himself and his minions.
Malacanang cannot claim that the administration has nothing to do with the SEC decision as it was the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) who asked as early as December 2016 the official corporate regulator to investigate Rappler and Rappler Holdings Corporation for possible violation of the constitutional provision on foreign ownership.
Moreover, Duterte has publicly denounced Rappler on numerous occasions for being American-owned.
Sociologist Herbie Docena was absolutely correct about the motive behind the shutting down of Rappler.
“Because it is one of the remaining media organizations that asks the questions that Duterte does not want asked, report the news that Duterte does not want reported, and air the views that Duterte would rather suppress.”
“In short: because it is one of the few remaining obstacles that stand in the way of Duterte’s gradually emerging dictatorial regime,” Docena quipped.
We couldn’t agree more.
In our previous article, we lamented how the constitution and the rule of law had died in 2017. We cited the political persecution of Sen Leila de Lima and other opposition figures and the harassment and repression of the heads of independent constitutional institutions.
Rappler’s clampdown is just another Marcosian way of the Duterte despotic regime to stifle dissent, kill intelligent and democratic debate, discourse and exchange of ideas and install a one-man rule.
“The shutdown of Rappler is a win for fake news, and a loss for dissenting voices and free speech,” opposition senator Bam Aquino said.
This recent phenomenon reminded us of the famous Martin Niemoller quote.
Lawyer, acclaimed international debater and social media influencer Jesus Falcis made a witty, spot-on adaptation of the Niemoller quote, to wit:
We are undeniably under attack. The Filipino people, our institutions, our values, our rights and freedoms.
Without even noticing it, we will just wake up one day with balls and chains.
Today it’s Rappler. Tomorrow it can be anyone from us. Speak up, speak out.